China's supply chain speeds up commercial space ventures

Allen Hsieh, Taipei; Vyra Wu, DIGITIMES Asia 0


In 2023, the low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite industry is buzzing with positive news on multiple fronts. Firstly, SpaceX has reported a positive cash flow for its Starlink service, signaling a commercially viable model for the space industry involving both official and private sector participation. On the consumer side, Apple's latest 2023 devices are continuing the trend of incorporating satellite communication features, while Huawei has introduced smartphones boasting satellite calling capabilities.

With the commercialization of space gaining traction and satellite terminals becoming increasingly commonplace, the LEO satellite industry is experiencing robust growth. Notably, alongside international players like SpaceX and OneWeb, Chinese companies are rapidly catching up.

In addition to Project GW, the "Chinese version of Starlink" led by China Satellite Network Group, Chinese companies are making significant contributions in the supply chain and private sector, fueling a period of high growth in the Chinese aerospace industry.

Following Huawei's launch of the Mate 60 Pro smartphone supporting satellite communication, satellite capabilities are now entering the mainstream. Chinese media suggests that Mate 60 Pro buyers are predominantly outdoor enthusiasts who not only carry traditional satellite phones but also equip their vehicles with satellite communication devices.

From smartphones to satellite-enabled vehicles, a satellite ecosystem is taking shape in daily life, driving continuous expansion in the satellite industry market. Geely Zeekr 001 FR supports satellite communication and is equipped with a satellite terminal developed by the Chinese private aerospace company, Geespace.

Geespace plans to introduce key components such as satellite communication chips and positioning modules for various brands under Geely in the future. In comparison to Huawei, it is accelerating the development of the Chinese satellite industry from the intelligent vehicle end.

In 2023, LEO satellite operators are making continuous strides, with SpaceX nearing its 100th launch goal, OneWeb achieving its satellite launch target, and Amazon's Project Kuiper launching its first batch of satellites, with more actions expected in 2024.

While China has set a target to launch 25,000 LEO satellites, the limited number of appropriate orbits, combined with the actions of leading players in construction and satellite launches, has created time pressure—first come, first served.

Currently, China has private sector participants such as Geespace focusing on satellite manufacturing and applications, Galactic Energy providing commercial launch services, Galaxy Space offering satellite network solutions, and Chang Guang Satellite Technology engaged in commercial remote sensing satellite services. This involvement is expected to reduce satellite manufacturing costs and achieve large-scale production.

In fact, Geespace is building a satellite super factory in Zhejiang to meet the growing trend of satellite applications in the automotive industry.

Although standards have not been established, satellite communication is already considered a potential technology for the 6G technology, making it a contested battleground and maintaining dominance in the 5G era for China, with hopes of continuing to hold influence in the 6G era.

Beyond direct satellite communication on phones or in cars, the vision for 6G involves the application of non-terrestrial networks (NTN). In the future, LEO satellites and ground terminals on cars could be considered as base stations, using phased array antenna technology to create satellite communication modules and form a comprehensive communication mobile network.

With Chinese companies accelerating their involvement in the space industry, coupled with 6G factors, despite having a development gap compared to current international heavyheights, China's significant government support and vast market make it a continued focal point of attention.